Thursday, January 17, 2013

Season of the Witch by David Talbot

A rollicking history of one of the nation’s most beautiful and tumultuous cities is presented by David Talbot in Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love.

San Francisco is a place like no other in the world.  Flooded by gold prospectors in the mid-1800s, it became a destination for many immigrants and Americans from the east who sought a new life.  San Francisco became known for its riches, cultural diversity and lawlessness in the first portion of the 20th Century.

By the 1960s the counterculture boom had hit Northern California.  The Summer of Love was predated by a true sense of change from the staid, white-bread America of the Eisenhower fifties.  With an influx of young people yearning for different lives in an accepting city, San Francisco became a favorite settling place for hippies, gays and a number of other groups wanting to experience its unique freedom.

Yet there was an undercurrent of the sinister as well.  Patty Hearst, granddaughter of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped in San Francisco and tortured by followers of the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974.  Local minister Jim Jones moved his Peoples Temple followers to Guyana and persuaded them to kill themselves in 1978, the largest mass murder/suicide in history.  That same year disgruntled city supervisor Dan White gunned down Mayor George Moscone and popular city supervisor Harvey Milk in their city hall offices.  There was definitely a period when San Francisco was anything but “The City of Love.”

When outbreaks of AIDS struck in the late 1970s and 1980s many San Franciscans were left to fear for the health and welfare of their friends, family and beloved city.  However, San Francisco stayed strong and fought back.

For more great reads about fascinating cities, try Paris, My Sweet by Amy Thomas or City of Scoundrels by Gary Krist.

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